You pause as the wind whispers through the dwarf hemlock trees and strain to hear the faint call of a bird unfamiliar to the area.
Suddenly, a foreign sound rises over the next hill: it’s some kind of hip-hop music. Soon you discover the source: a hiker merrily carting a boom box while talking loudly on a cell phone.
I’m rather easy-going out on the trail. Modern society has weighed us down with more than enough rules and regulations. But as our population increases and we have more and more folks venturing outdoors, I think a modicum of trail etiquette goes a long way toward making everyone’s experience better.
If our hip-hop imbued hiker truly wanted to take the sounds of civilization with him into the wilds, I would suggest that he also bring along recordings of automobile road noise, ambulance sirens, video game bleeps, and explosions.
Destroying the magic
I recall a beautiful day at the top of Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park. We joined a handful of people taking in the breathtaking view. The peaceful moment was shattered by a guy talking loudly on his cellphone, selfishly making everyone within 100 yards a part of his conversation. Thankfully, someone talked to him and he moved away.
On a hike back out of South Fork Valley a year ago, we stopped to observe a drone hovering about 150 feet above the trail. I stopped next to a woman who looked curiously at the whining object. “Wonder if my .20 gauge shotgun would reach that far?” I commented. “I was thinking along the same lines,” she replied.
On a return cross-country ski trip along the Knik River, someone with a fat-tire bike had run over our ski tracks. The ruts had frozen and made our skis flail all over the place – as if they had minds of their own.
And there is nothing quite as invigorating as skiing or snowshoeing back over a trail that’s been post-holed by unthinking, uncaring adventurers.
On another winter hike in the same area, a guy’s uncontrolled golden retriever jumped up on me and licked my glasses, which immediately froze, making them opaque. I have nothing against folks bringing along their canine friends, but Chugach State Park regulations note that they should be “under control.”
One of my pastimes while hiking on the more popular trails is picking up trash people leave behind.
I’m starting to think some people believe the countryside looks better, more familiar, if it has some human refuse on the ground. Perhaps it’s some form of modern art with which I’m not acquainted.
On a hike near Eklutna Lake with my son many years ago, we approached a fire ring of rocks on the lake shore. We were both surprised to see there were no tin cans or other garbage inside the fire ring. It sometimes happens.
But on a hike through Crow Pass last summer, we came upon several illegal fire rings and they all contained either cans, bottles, or other refuse. It’s not only against Chugach State Park regulations, it’s a blatant affront to the land.
I wonder if anyone else has noticed this, but does it seem strange when you see a road sign without bullet holes in it? The classic, quintessential sign, of course, is one that reads ”No Shooting,” yet is riddled with bullet holes.
Here’s an Alaska classic: While hiking the Austin-Helmers Pioneer Ridge Trail one winter, I came upon a snare trap mounted right in the middle of the trail-absolutely no regard for other hikers and their pets.
Some of the most unbelievable “yahoo” behavior used to occur in the Jim Creek area, near Palmer. But I’ve heard that in recent years the activity has mellowed some. Back in the day, I was tempted to bring a psychologist friend and set up a desk in the area and have him administer free IQ tests. It’s good I didn’t, however, because we both might have ended up like Alaska’s road signs.
Campgrounds are ideal outdoor laboratories for studying the full range of human behavior, such as: Fire rings full of tin foil and other garbage; axe gouges on picnic tables, benches and parking area posts – apparently someone’s idea of a ready source of firewood; food remnants spilled upon the ground to attract bears and other critters; and finally, loud music and partying on into the night and wee hours of the morning.
I almost wish that along with the overnight parking fees, campers were required to pass a written test covering the campground’s rules and regulations.
But in truth, sarcasm aside, none of the things mentioned are difficult to remedy. A little common sense, respect for others and sensitivity for our beautiful land are all that we need. As I’ve said before, we’re all stewards of our environment, and that certainly applies to how we conduct ourselves when we’re out in it.
On any given day I’d much rather be instructive than preachy. Many of my friends, acquaintances and other members of the community know all of this already, so in a way, I’m preaching to the choir.
And from what I’ve seen – from the Nature Center to state and federal park officials, as well as volunteers, it’s a great choir. We just have to keep singing louder.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the ECHO News team, an avid outdoorsman and a freelance writer living in Eagle River with his wife, Becky, a retired school teacher. Baker was recently appointed to the Chugach State Park Citizens Advisory Board.